Furthering with Furber

I seem to be constantly reminded of my fashion sinning in more ways than one at the moment, so much so that writing a post about it is increasingly precarious, as I reconsider my stance on things.  One area that again, I have sinned to the point of ignorance is eco-fashion – that umbrella term that could mean anything from sustainable production to organic materials.  I have tried to understand.  I have tried to get enthusiastic.  Sadly the problem, similar to charity-propelled products, is that the final results of eco-fashion are just not aesthetically challenging enough.  I keep recalling Pia Stanchina as a label that actually shook my eyes into eco-mode but that was two years ago.  Nothing since has really touched that sort of awe-factor.  Hanging brown paper tags on products to mark them out as 'green', 'organic' and 'sustainable' is just a lazy trump card to keep playing if the clothes feel like they have been put into the constraints of 'green' design.



I'm therefore pleased that I have killed two birds with one convenient stone by finding a designer who a) easily gets graduate footwear designer of this year (last year was the fearless Chau Har Lee) and b) also has impressed me with her will to combine forward-thinking production means with sustainability in materials as well as a mind-blowing aesthetic.  I finally saw 2010 Cordwainers Footwear design graduate Helen Furber's shoes in person (who you may have seen via I Don't Eat Bread) today at Carnaby Street and complete with a thorough reading of her detailed design blog (is it not f**cking fantastic that more and more designers and design students put effort into their blogs to document their progress?) as well as seeing her portfolio, I'm now ready to fly the Furber flag for Name Most Likely To Go It Alone With Her Own Brand.  That's a very long title there.  Not a bad one though if it can be achieved, eh?




She may have developed a dislike for bubbles but I'll keep the flag flying.  Her final BA project 'Icica' is based on her clearly vehement ideas about the need for a sustainable and technology-focused design approach within the luxury market.  Thinking up her own prototyping technologies, she has thought of a way of redefining a shoe's lifecycle – essentially her shoes can be broken down into layers that are then recyclable or biodegradable after they have been worn and torn.  Helen has also used Soil Association certified Organic leather by Natureally which is able to trace the tanning of leather back to the individual leather to ensure every animal has been treated to the highest standards.  Her treatise on the use of leather in luxury is convincing even as I sit here surrounded by questionable leather sources…

That's a lot of jargon to process and I guess I shouldn't be banging on about those points so heavily because that in itself is the crux behind my unwillingness to commit to eco-designs.  You keep hammering those points in and you begin to wonder whether they are trying to compensate for lack of interesting design with the spiel.  Looking at Helen's inspiration images, it's clear that for her, the aesthetics of the final designs also need to be enrichened and whilst her design mission follow those lines of innovative materials and production, ultimately design needs to triumph…    




And so come the final resulting shoes… which after reading Helen's thorough blog (with considerable amounts of text – YAY!), I feel as though I'm seeing the fruits of a journey that I was never on but somehow have memories of.  With apt sponsorship from Y-3, Studio Van der Graaf and Natureally organic leather, Helen has developed her transformable wedge/heel shoes that exemplify all of the 'spiel' above and more.  These are visually eye-catching on any level.  Even the design with the different layers incorporated into them could be looked upon as distinctive and beautifully organic design without even acknowledging the fact that they are recyclable/bio-degradable.  Is it weird that in my mind, technological-based design is often hard-edged or burdened with function'?  Not so in the case of Helen's designs and in particular the nude wedges that also stand alone with icicled Bioresin Sole Units (don't ask me what the heck that means…) are shoes to covet whether they are imbued with thoery or not… 












35 Replies to “Furthering with Furber”

  1. This is very impressive! I’m really interested in the process of making shoes and I think it’s really cool that she models her designs digitally as well. The crystal structures are quite beautiful.

  2. “Hanging brown paper tags on products to mark them out as ‘green’, ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’ is just a lazy trump card to keep playing if the clothes feel like they have been put into the constraints of ‘green’ design.”
    I am not sure I understand your argument here. Yes, some “green” designs are boring but so are most clothes that are made in a conventional way using fabrics made of fiber that was farmed with a lot of pesticides which is not only harmful to the enviornment but is actually killing farmers and field hands every year. Sorry to remind you (and me! and all of us who shop on the high street) of being a fashion sinner but you knew about this anyway. And yes, there are restrictions if one wants to avoid man-made fabrics that use a lot of water and or chemicals to be produced but I think that it is definitely not lazy to make sure that your clothes are produced in a sustainable, environment- and people-friendly way. It does take a lot of effort and it just seems unfair to lump all fashion designers who try to be “green” together and label them lazy. I wish I could rattle off a long list of them that would impress you but I write more about mainstreamy fair trade alternatives to high street fashion. But what about Bodkin, Esther Perbandt and Commuun?

  3. Yes, there are exceptions…. I’m not saying that there aren’t and it isn’t a niche I know a lot about… yes Commuun, Noir and Bodkin (though their designs aren”t always to my taste…) do do great things but the exceptions are a few drops in a sea of labels and initiatives (in particular those actioned by high street brands…) that are ‘green’ and are in my opinion not that interesting in design. That’s an opinion. Obviously I have somewhat skewed tastes but I believe if ‘green’ fashion is to truly take hold then from the high end level, it must try and do what non-green designers do, which is contribute directional design in order for it to filter down into the normal chain system. Right now, it stands as a niche but why is that?
    The cause is not a lazy thing – that’s not what I’m saying but it just feels like a lot of these labels and collections scream out that they are ‘eco’ before shouting about the design.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is if, this is a new niche in clothing, why is it that we’re going at it from the basic end of the scale instead of approaching it from the ground-breaking end? When will my eye directly be drawn to beautiful designs first and cause, second? The exceptions are so few and even some of their aesthetics when compared to what’s out there in the non-green sector can be so overshadowed that again, it’s difficult for core design to triumph.
    Like I said, I’m a fashion sinner – aesthetics matter the most to me because I buy high street, I wear leather and I do a lot of things that aren’t very saintly at all.
    Though you are right about my brandishing labels as ‘lazy’ – , the cause is NOT a lazy one and I appreciate that it takes the extra effort to create things that are sustainable in more ways than one…. I get a bit OTT when honing in a point and the point is that clearly amazing things can be done with the materials available and that they keep advancing as well (sorry to keep referring to you pia stanchina), so why hasn’t it been embraced more?
    Btw, Commuun is a great example! Loved their last collection…

  4. “I believe if ‘green’ fashion is to truly take hold then from the high end level, it must try and do what non-green designers do, which is contribute directional design in order for it to filter down into the normal chain system. Right now, it stands as a niche but why is that?”
    I wish I had a good answer for this one but I don’t. I have written about the obstacles “green” and fair trade companies have to overcome to become more popular here: http://shopfair.blogspot.com/2009/08/thoughts-about-fair-trade-part-five.html I just hope that as consumers and future students of fashion design become more and more aware of the negative environmental impact of conventional farming of cotton, making man-made fibers, dying fabric, tanning leather and mining silver/gold we will try harder to find alternatives. I guess part of the problem why it’s still such a niche is that it is really a pain in the b*** to find these alternatives and as a designer to ensure that everything from sourcing to production and transporting goods to shops is executed in an eco- and people-friendly way. And I guess another reason might be that consumers don’t exactly enjoy thinking about social responsibilty and environmentalism when buying clothes (and I am not exempting myself here) but ultimately we want fashion to be fun. So “green” labels are sending out the wrong message apparently if you and no doubt many others feel that “a lot of these labels and collections scream out that they are ‘eco’ before shouting about the design.” Lastly I do sometimes have a sneaking suspicion that for a lot of people working in the design/fashion sector it is really aesthetics over ethics and that they just can’t be bothered to deal with these kind of questions (see also an interview with K. Hamnett here: “She tried to interest her fellow designers in using organic cotton, but they ran a mile” http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2007/apr/15/fashion.features2
    so I am also hoping that more and more fashion companies will hire advisors who will take care of the “boring” background business of making a fashion line “green”.
    So anyway thank you for bringing up the subject on your blog. And take a look at this: http://shopfair.blogspot.com/2010/02/i-lover-your-style-susie-bubble.html

  5. How amazing are they?
    I agree that even if I didn’t know what their function was I would still want to own them. And how cool that once your shoes wear down you have a new, just as awesome pair to replace!

  6. “it just feels like a lot of these labels and collections scream out that they are ‘eco’ before shouting about the design.”
    “When will my eye directly be drawn to beautiful designs first and cause, second? ”
    I hear (or read) what you’re saying. I think that’s why I tend to *pulls a funny face* whenever I hear something is sustainable, because the idea that the product is sustainable/organic/whatever is so glorified often when I see the product it feels like such a let down-like the aesthetic was an after thought.
    Maybe that’s why I really like this shoe-sustainability and aesthetic clearly went hand in hand when designing it.

  7. Hey really this an just amazing post….. I don’t have words to Explain it…. keep posting such an great post…. Beautiful collection for woman’s….. Thanks again…
    Mark, NY

  8. These shoes are incredible! I feel like “green” and “eco-friendly” fashion is usually stereotyped as, well, ugly, but these shoes are absolutely fantastic. It blows my mind how much work and thought and hours have been put into one pair of shoes … and ultimately, it was worth it. If it was possible to put this much effort into every fashion piece produced, I think we could all have very sustainable and eco-friendly options!! Thanks for posting, this is amazing….

  9. it’s amazing to see this sort of technology and innovation in fashion. but don’t you think it’s sort of wasted in london where the industry is dominated by poorly made, disposable high street products? on top of that the industry is fickle in general and based on seasonal trends so surely is the antithesis to sustainability?!
    that’s not to say that i don’t support the cause. i think it’s great to see sustainable designers but at the same time it’s always easier to buy into seasonal trends, especially from the high street

  10. Very inspirational post and you have brought to the fore the issue that ‘eco’ designers have to address – their designs really need to appeal first, and the eco/ethical element should just be an added bonus. I’m sure you’re aware of Fair Trade company People Tree’s collaboration with various designers – that started when I was at Japanese Vogue and wanted to show all the fashion ‘sinners’ (!) that eco/ethical fashion didn’t have to be bad!! It might not have been the most out-there stuff but at the time (2007) it was relatively new for designers to do anything with eco/ethics in mind so I was very proud of it, and the collaborations continue now! Couldn’t find scans of the original spread that we did in the mag anywhere on line but here’s one of the dresses… by Richard Nicoll.
    I only hope that in the future we don’t even need the cardboard tag saying that something is eco – because EVERYTHING will be and therefore no tag will be necessary!

  11. oooh thanks for sharing…..i always try to keep an eye on what the students at cordwainers are doing..its my dream to study footwear there one day soon…her ideas are fresh, i agree with you that alot of eco-friendly designs, despite starting with such good intentions, may not always end up transforming into a luxurious end product, but these shoes do convey a little luxury

  12. I JUST discovered Helen Furber a few days ago while researching what colleges to apply to and this was displayed at the London College of Fashion’s website. Amazing. So creative, innovative… orginial.. FABULOUS.. sustainable. Amazing.

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